20 September 2012

Isaiah 42:10-16

"Now I will cry out like a woman in labour." (v. 14)


Until quite recently, I would say that the most distress that I had seen a person in was when people who I'd been playing football against had broken bones. They might hear or feel the break in their leg or ankle and howl out in pain and anxiety. It was hard to see people who were beside themselves with that kind of pain, but when I was there while my son was born, and things got more and more complicated, then all of those times on the football pitch seemed completely trivial by comparison. My wife was amazing throughout the whole 48 hours, but there was no getting away from the fact that this was the hardest thing that she had ever done in her life. The metaphor that Isaiah uses in verse 14 ("now I will cry out like a woman in labour") has previously passed me by, but since Freddie was born, I can start to understand what that metaphor properly means.

This passage is entitled 'a hymn of praise' in my Bible, and the writer clearly wishes to express their admiration for the changes that God implements, and how awesome these acts will be. The image of God in labour works in this instance in particular because labour is a time of transition for a family, for an individual and for the whole world also; perhaps we might even be able to describe it as one of the most instant transformations that can take place. Isaiah does not shy away from using female images for God, and shows that those who wish God to be masculine miss huge and vital swathes of ways of thinking about our God. The passage continues, and states that huge changes will take place, now that God has ceased to hold God's own peace. The landscape will change, the darkness will dissipate, and those who have turned away will turn back to God (verses 14-16).

One aspect of God's character that I struggle to grasp fully is God's own restorative powers. It's not that I believe God cannot change everything, but simply that I cannot grasp how that will take place, and how it is able to be so complete a change. We know this future as "new creation", when creation remains, but that which reduces creation's perfection fades away. The theologian Jurgen Moltmann insists that the hope of this future is central to our faith. It is hope that comes overwhelmingly from this passage in Isaiah, hope that God is with us, that God lives amongst us, that God works towards this future when all will be free from hopelessness, and full of hopefulness. Christ's death and subsequent resurrection are the model for all that will change, and just how incredibly that change will be.

To Ponder

  • How does the metaphor of labour help your understanding of God's work?
  • What does God's restoration mean to you?

Bible notes author

Jon Curtis

Jon Curtis is a Venture FX pioneer minister in Exeter, Devon. He lives with his exceptional wife Beth, and beautiful baby Freddie.